The Third Way

The Third Way

 Text; The third wayYears ago, I had a conversation with my therapist around accepting certain family dynamics as they were.  

You see, I’d been living in a paradigm that allowed only two options; tolerate what was intolerable, or resist, fight it with everything you’ve got.

And what I hadn’t known was that there was a third way.

There was the potential to step out of that paradigm altogether, but it would require a radical acceptance of what was.

And I’m not going to lie: I struggled with this.  

I wanted things to be different so bad.  I felt they should be different – that things as they were just weren’t right.

But, with great compassion, she pointed out to me that I could go on wishing, hoping, insisting that life – and other people – should be different, staying stuck in the stalemate of arguing with reality.  

Or I could surrender my fight with what is, and see what emerged from total acceptance.

Now I wish I could say that things changed overnight, but – like all meaningful work – acceptance is a practice.  

And with acceptance also came grief and a certain, intangible kind of loss.  

But I came to understand that acceptance didn’t mean there was no potential for change, or that I wouldn’t still desire or enjoy a change.  

Rather it meant that my wellbeing and sanity were not dependent on things changing.  

That some things were what they were no matter how loud I insisted they shouldn’t be.

And through acceptance – through the third way that wasn’t tolerating the intolerable or fighting what was – that I could allow real change to occur.

Because from acceptance comes agency, power and creativity.  

From acceptance comes freedom.

To choose who and how we want to be.  

To choose how we want to respond and engage.

To live our values and to act with intention, care and precision.

It’s through acceptance – not resignation, not tolerance, not resistance – that we create the conditions for life’s myriad possibilities to unfold.

It’s in the third way that we can stop fighting paradigms, and transcend them.  

So if you’re in need of a little acceptance today, here are my prompts for you:

1. Where might I confuse acceptance with tolerance or resignation, and how might they be different?

2. What do I feel if I sit with this moment, right now, surrendering the need to fix or change? What space opens up?

3. What might be different if my actions were rooted in acceptance?

Laura x 

Compassion for our Inner B*%^!

Compassion for our Inner B*%^!

Photo by Lina Trochez

Compassion for our inner bitch isn’t always easy.

Inner bitch? We all have one. It’s that negative voice in our heads, the inner critic, the one that says you’re not good enough, or skinny enough, or you’ll always be broke or you’re never going to reach your dreams. Our inner critic is a broken record of self-criticisms, a feedback loop where we speak to ourselves in a way that we would probably never speak to others.

That inner critic, however, believes it has an important job – to protect us. The intention behind our inner critic is not to be cruel or harsh, but to keep us safe. Our ego thinks that if we know our limitations, if we don’t push too far or try too hard, or if we re-think every mistake we have made at 2 o’clock in the morning, that maybe we’ll be okay – maybe we will find that magical way to be liked by everyone or we will motivate ourselves to make the changes that we know deep down we need.

Our culture encourages this, whether it intends to or not, by perpetually feeding the voice of inadequacy with ad campaigns that tell us that we will be happier when we have the bag, the shoes, the house, the car, the next vacation. All this does is feed our inner bitch – the “I’m never going to be enough; I’m an idiot; I thought I’d be more successful by now; Oh God I’m still single and 30, what if no-one want me?” voice.

Despite its best intentions, this survival tactic – this inner voice which aims to keep us safe – usually does the opposite. At its best it holds us back, safe within our perceived limitations; never rocking the boat, never stretching, never choosing what we really want. At its worst it becomes the cornerstone of depression, we listen to the voice so much we forget that it and us are separate. That we are not our thoughts, but rather the awareness of them; that we are more motivated by love and positive reinforcement than by fear and negative thinking.

The inner bitch territory can be hard to navigate, a rabbit-hole of dead-ends and circle-backs in a land of not-enoughness. It can be tempting to go down the one-way streets of negative thinking, getting lost in the dodgy neighbourhoods that litter the corners of our mind. Compassion, particularly in those rough parts of town, can seem unlikely.

In the past, I tried everything to combat this inner critic. Starving it through meditation and thought monitoring (highly recommended), beating it through more self-criticism and judgement (not recommended), and by acting tougher, more confident, more self-assured – most of which were band-aids for a wound that needed surgery.

In the words of Kristin Neff, “when you’re in the trenches, do you want an enemy or an ally?”.  Sometimes we need to learn to practice compassion for our inner bitch.

The foundations of self-compassion are understanding that we are not our thoughts, that we can choose whether we believe what our inner critic says, and the acknowledgement that at its essence, our inner critic wants our highest good.

Self-compassion is often misunderstood. It isn’t weakness. It isn’t settling or holding back. It doesn’t mean we are not accountable to ourselves or that we lose our drive or ambition.  And it is not the same as self-esteem, self-confidence or even self-love.

True self-compassion, rather, is the ability to see ourselves as human.  It is rooted in kindness, providing a cushion on which to fall as we stretch our known boundaries. It is an expression of inner strength. It embodies a gentleness towards ourselves, an acknowledgement not of failure but of persistence. It allows us to rest, to push forward, and to re-write the script of our inner bitch.

Self-compassion allows us to not be perfect. To be silly, but never stupid. It allows us to change our negative thoughts – the “I am never enoughs”, the “I’ll be happy when’s” – to guideposts of what we truly desire, rather than stop signs along the way. Without the need to be perfect or live up to unrealistic expectations, we give ourselves a chance to listen to feedback, to grow, to improve – to be human.

Compassion for our inner bitch doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some, it is an internal journey – a shift in our thoughts, perceptions and the way we speak to ourselves. For others, it might mean pausing, shifting, changing life direction. It might mean speaking up and standing out, knowing that whatever the outcome, you’ll treat yourself as you would a close friend.  After all, self-compassion is sitting with what is; acknowledging our suffering and our fears, without running away.

Sometimes the most self-compassionate thing we can do is to make friends with our inner bitch, know that she is scared, and ignore her terrible advice.

How can you practice self-compassion? How can you be kind to your inner bitch today?

Launching February 2018 is Courageous Conversations, a 5 week online masterclass in having brave, real and honest conversations. Learn to say no, to express your true feelings, and to ask for what you really want. Want more info as it launches? Send a note with the subject “Courageous Conversations” to stay updated: laura@appleseedcoaching.com  (more…)

The Art of Restorative Rest

The Art of Restorative Rest

This blog was first posted in 2016.  Interested in deeper work about burnout, internalised capitalism and getting free? Check out our group program, Internal Revolution, or coaching with Laura Hartley. 

Restoration (noun): the action of returning something to a former owner, place or condition, eg the restoration of peace.

The concept of rest has been calling my attention in recent months, as I’ve listened to an inner need to slow down. By nature I am a doer, and prone to all the highs and lows that that entails – a sense of striving, of completion, of getting things done; and sometimes a sense of burnout, exhaustion, and feeling pulled in a thousand directions.

I considered myself relaxed and rested by having nights in with Netflix or a sneaky doze during savasana, yet I still found myself plagued by a sense of deep tiredness, of needing a break no matter how many times I skipped a night out or lost myself in the world of my phone.

A Sunday sleep in is considered the epitome of rest, and yet so many of us still live with a sense of chronic exhaustion.  I credit this partly to the fact we live in a culture that glorifies busy and burnout.

Of capitalism and its endless quest for growth. 

Our realities are often consumed by our to-do lists, outstanding tasks and projects become plot points in the narrative of our lives. How little time we have and how full our calendars are often seen as the traditional markers of success, while little importance is placed on time connecting with ourselves and nature.

That experience of ‘time scarcity’ – that there’s just never enough time – creeps everywhere.  “There’s not enough hours in the day”, “I don’t know how she fits it all in”, “There’s a lot to cover in this meeting, let’s just power through lunch”, “You can rest when your dead”, “After this week things should slow down…”. 

Pick your favourite. 

A week or month spent doing nothing is seen of little value, and yet having taken time to do this whether through travelling or simply in my ordinary life, I know that this is not true.

Without time away from our to-do lists, without learning to listen to our body, we miss the beauty that comes with being fully alive.

Burnout and exhaustion are tricky spaces. We so often think if we just ‘relax more’ (cue glass of wine), or take a weekend off (cue vacation), we’ll feel better.  That we just need a little help switching off.

But by the time we’ve reached exhaustion, the heaviness in our shoulders and jaw, it’s not as simple as just relaxing.  We need to start looking within, and exploring what restorative rest and might actually look like. 

Restorative rest is about taking ourselves away from the need to do, fix and complete.  It’s what happens after we let ourselves deeply feel and experience the truth of our emotions and bodies.  It’s space and seed of renewal. 

Restorative rest though requires us to take radical steps. To move beyond the (beautiful, amazing) space of massages and wellness, and into the messy, uncomfortable space of feeling what our body has to say to us.

Because until we stop running, truly pausing and listening to what is arising within us, then restorative rest will remain distant. 

Interested in some examples of rest you can take?


In my journey of rest, there were days I worked from bed, and nights I tucked myself into books and stories and epically great TV shows (ahem, *homeland*). The guide was my body, sleeping when it needed sleep, waking when it wanted to wake, and allowing it to recalibrate its rhythm. 

I’ll be real: this meant at the time I was often late to work, and not everyone has that luxury.  And many of us have more agency than we think to sleep earlier and schedule our weekends to match our bodies needs than we allow.

Body rest is about letting our body guide our movement. It meant skipping the gym when I thought I ‘should’ go, but instead was bone deep tired.  

Body rest is about letting the soft animal of our body guide our way, and not our thoughts about what we should do, or are supposed to do. 


As an activist, a media fast at first seemed outrageous.  I felt a moral responsibility to stay informed, and for current events to guide my activism. I still feel this way to an extent.


We were not designed to process the amount of news and speed of information we are currently experiencing.  The pings on our phone telling us of the latest crisis or scandal are creating real, physiological reactions in our nervous system. Our brains and bodies don’t always know the difference between danger that’s imagined or distant and danger that screams RUN or FREEZE. 

Media fasts are necessary for a period of time to recalibrate and restore.  Delete the apps, turn them off your phone, delete your social apps for just seven days.  See how you feel. 


This isn’t ‘rest’ per se, but if we’re looking at this idea of restorative rest or restoration, we must look here. Giving ourselves permission to stop saying yes to shit we don’t want to do. To rest from the endless shoulds we subject ourselves to.  

To do what you feel called to, and to set a boundary where you don’t.  (Prentis Hemphill says it best when they write, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously”).  

Ask yourself, why are you doing what you’re doing? Because you felt you should? Because it’s what a ‘good’ person would do? Because people expect it? 

Or because you truly desire it?

Give youself some rest from yours and others artificial expectations, and rest into what feels true, whole and yours. 

Learning a path of balance has not come easily to me, and it still requires much practice. Restorative rest, however, has become a place to return to, a staple in the toolbox of practices.

In the words of John Lubbock, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”.

Where can you bring some restorative rest to your life?

Feeling burnt-out trying to change the world? Check out Changemaker Coaching here. 

Living from the Heart… & Other Lessons from Bhutan

Living from the Heart… & Other Lessons from Bhutan

I was slowly settling into a new life in Amsterdam when I saw the advertisement for the Slow Change program in Bhutan.  Despite being a world away, I instantly knew I needed to join.  2016 had been a challenging year for me – I moved countries twice, ended a meaningful relationship, and despite having the intention to ‘lay foundations’, spent most of my time country hopping on over 30 flights between 14 countries, searching for something I felt I had lost.  Bhutan, it seems, was it.

Bhutan is a small, mountainous country nestled between the giants of China and India. No paved roads until the 1960’s, no TV or internet until 1999, no GMO’s and almost entirely organic farming. A country that is not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative, and a land with no foreign tourists until the 1970’s. With an entire series of kings that prioritised the wellbeing and happiness of their people, Bhutan is a country like no other.

Landing after a mildly harrowing flight from Bangkok to Paro, the crisp mountain air and startling warm sunshine provided me with an early appreciation for the small mountain kingdom, and marked the beginning of what I knew would be a transformative journey.

The Slow Change program was a two-week workshop run jointly by the Gross National Happiness Centre and Humankind Enterprises, bringing together 20 young changemakers to learn about the intersection of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and Slow Change – a deep inner transformation in the way we live and work. We travelled across the country exploring the country’s cultural vibrancy, strong sense of spirituality and the nations governing principle – Gross National Happiness.

I first heard about Gross National Happiness, or GNH, about five years ago, and although I was fascinated with the concept, I remember thinking that it sounded a little like a puff piece, a nice idea with no real substance. What could a country so small, so isolated, and so radically different have to teach the world? As it turns out, a lot.

While I won’t go into the history, pillars or domains of Gross National Happiness (you can read more about these here), the deep complexity and versatility of GNH became clear as we visited local schools, attended daily lectures and were given opportunities to question local spiritual leaders.

Being a Buddhist country, mindfulness quickly became a daily practice, and we were privileged to visit sacred meditation sites, some as old as 800 years. The stillness embedded in the land  was palpable, and although we were encouraged to ponder the meaning of Gross National Happiness and Slow Change, another topic – living from the heart – was begging for my attention.

It’s not news that the world faces challenges never encountered by earlier generations, whether it is climate change and sustainability, plastics pollution, increasing refugee numbers, fear, xenophobia or terrorism. We see over 350 million people worldwide suffering from depression, soaring rates of anxiety and a culture that glorifies burnout, exhaustion and chronic over-working. We are more digitally connected than ever before, but rarely know the names of our own neighbours.

These problems will not be solved by a quick fix or magic bullet, but are representative of the need for a fundamental shift in the way we live and work, a large reason I was drawn to Bhutan. As Albert Einstein once said, no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

In the pursuit of happiness, western culture encourages us to pursue extrinsic goals such as financial success, an ever-growing economy, popularity, networking and looking attractive, as ways to be successful.  It’s these same values, however, that have us pursuing endless growth or ‘more’ at the expense of our communities, our environment and our connection to nature and each other. 

If you ask the average person, however, what is most important to them, they tend to list intrinsic motivations such as family, friends & community (connection), health (physical wellbeing) & feeling good (self-love & acceptance), which research backs up as ultimately being more fulfilling.

Intrinsic goals like the above, along with values such as compassion, mercy, wisdom and love, have long been associated with the idea of heart, and as I travelled through Bhutan I began to answer my own question of what a heart-based society would look like. Gross National Happiness is an example of one such way of life, which is why it is so radically unique. Its guiding principle is not the endless pursuit of ‘more’, of searching for fulfilment outside of itself, but rather the wellbeing of its people, its environment and its culture.

Bhutan is not a perfect country. It is not without problems, and it too is facing unprecedented challenges as it moves further into connection with the rest of the world. For me, however, it is best described as a heart opening land. Its stillness allowed me to stop chasing the extrinsic goals I had been pursuing all year. It reminded me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and that the first step to creating a more heart-centred society is to tune in and listen to my own heart.

Bhutan provided me with a deep sense of connection to my values of compassion, connection and grace, and it showed me that not only must we live by heart-based values as individuals, but as communities and nations too.

Concepts like Gross National Happiness, and even happiness in general, don’t fascinate us because they are a pretty term or a fancy band-aid for the world’s problems. They connect with the part of us that recognises our current model of living is not working, and our endless desire for endless growth is no longer fulfilling.  As individuals, communities and nations, we crave something more – something embodied by Bhutan and its philosophy of Gross National Happiness.  Perhaps the small Himalayan kingdom, with its radically big idea, can show us the way.

I’ll write more on my Bhutan experience and the lessons I have learnt from Gross National Happiness and Slow Change over time, but if you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the blogs of some other participants, Sophie Benbow, Samantha BennettMike Davis & Christiane Schicker

Have questions about Bhutan, GNH or happiness? Send me an email at laura@appleseedcoaching.com

Happiness as a Way of Life

Happiness as a Way of Life

Happiness as a way of life. Laura Hartley Life Coach.Recently I was speaking with a friend about what makes a happy life, and like many people, he didn’t know what made him happy. I didn’t find his answer surprising, except he then said that he didn’t really need to be happy. He viewed striving for happiness as potential failure – too much effort, with too much risk. He continued that if you asked the average person what happiness was, and what made them happy, that they wouldn’t know the answer, and what was wrong with that? Not everyone could do what they wanted in life, and contentment was safer.

As I listened to him speak, I recognised him use the same words for happiness that I had always used – reaching happiness, finding happiness, doing something that makes me happy. I’ve been searching for happiness most of my life. I’ve looked for it in travelling, drugs, sex, careers, moving countries and, like most 20-somethings, relationships. I’ve searched for it, strived for it, and without even realising, devoted most of my life to achieving it.

But here’s what I have learnt – happiness isn’t something that can be achieved. Happiness isn’t a moment, and it doesn’t live in the individual dramas of our lives.   It is not a place we reach or something we find, but rather a way in which we live. Happiness is the summation of our willingness to grow, our acceptance and embrace of the present moment, our honour for our deepest callings and our gratitude for everything, even that which hurts.

It sounds clichéd, and we’ve all heard the quotes of happiness being the journey, not the destination. On an intellectual level I always believed this, though it is only recently that I have come to understand it.

There is a difference between happiness and joy, and I truly believe that our lives can always be happy, even if we are not always joyful. A happy life should have frequent and consistent moments of joy, those times when our face lights up with excitement and passion, but some pain is unavoidable. Whether we respond to the pain with resistance however, or recognise it as part of our becoming, is what measures our relationship to happiness.

Several years ago I wrote a piece on the Huffington Post in which I spoke about a moment of awakening. I realised that my life was not singular or alone, and that our purpose came not from serving ourselves but from connecting to something greater than us, whether that be God, nature, or simply humanity. Our happiness comes from the same place; not an event, a person or even an achievement, but a connection to the deepest parts of ourselves, and that which is eternal – the present moment.

Maybe we struggle with the question of what makes us happy because we haven’t learned what it means to live in a happy way; to make choices that empower and support us, to cultivate compassion, to act courageously in the face of our fear and to feel, fully and wholly whatever we are experiencing, whether that be anger, sadness or joy.

We live in a society that tells us that happiness is outside of us. Brands like Coca-Cola suggest we ‘open happiness’, and magazines offer five tips for a happier life, as if enlightenment will come from the next kale smoothie. It is no wonder that contentment is seen as easier than happiness, and we live in search of something elusive. I’m learning though that if we change our understanding of happiness to a way of living instead of a place to reach, maybe it isn’t so elusive after all. Maybe it’s here, right now, in my every day choices and my embrace of what is.

I’m grateful to be joining a 10-day trip to Bhutan this November, the only country which measures Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, and in the lead up I’m spending some time reflecting on the idea of happiness. I’m curious about what you think makes a happy life. Do you agree with the above or would you change something? Let me know in the comments or send me an email to laura@appleseedcoaching.com